For my blog of choice, I want to talk about something I feel weirdly strongly about even though I’m not an expert on it: social media marketing. Specifically, social media marketing within the realm of television.
Lately, in the effort to get publicity for content and/or make television more interactive, several comedy shows have added hashtags to their programs. When done right and with purpose, the results can be great. Namely, @midnight’s Hashtag Wars segment effectively gets comedians to create humour centred around a specific theme as much as it inspires viewers to tweet jokes in a way that makes them feel like part of the show (i.e. #BreakfastCelebrities, #BadBroadway). On the less exciting side of the spectrum, there are also shows that briefly mention and display a general hashtag for their show (i.e. Comedy Central’s Not Safe with Nikki Glaser uses #notsafeshow) or let the general hashtag of their show name sit subtly in the corner of the screen.
The thing about integrating social media with TV for a so-called “second screen” experience is that the social media aspect should enhance your enjoyment of the show, not ruin it. When I watch award ceremonies like the Emmys or the Golden Globes, I like going on Twitter to see the latest observations about the show during the commercials, and adding myself to the conversation. It adds a social, connective aspect to what could otherwise be a long night filled with films you haven’t seen or industry people you’ve never heard of.
The thing is, I’ve seen far too many programs do the exact opposite. Namely, several standup comedy television shows make fatal mistakes in their social media strategy. As comedians do different jokes and/or different comedians come to the stage, I have seen a few standup television series or specials bizarrely decided to accompany each joke with a hashtag. For example, in a standup tv show I saw a few years ago, “#ketchupchips” appeared at the bottom of the screen as a comedian joked about ketchup chips.
Comedy lovers often loosely paraphrase Sylvia Plath when talking about what makes comedy funny: “If you dissect the bird, it loses its song.” I would argue that hashtags do exactly that in this context: by reducing the complexity of a joke to two flat words, joke-related hashtags rob their audiences of the moments of anticipation and surprise that are crucial to making them laugh in the first place. I can’t think of a more counterproductive integration of digital media.
Moreover, these joke-specific hashtags fragment audiences. Though I understand that the social media team’s intention is to encourage viewers to tweet the general hashtag for the show plus the hashtags of their favourite jokes, it’s simply not how people work. Especially considering that the joke hashtags often take the place of the show’s main hashtag when displayed on TV, you can’t expect everyone to remember the general hashtag all the time. Moreover, you also can’t expect the audience to use the general show hashtag because some viewers only watch shows for 10 minutes or less, so they might remember a joke but not the show name.
Social media is named as such precisely because it’s social. By creating hashtags for every single joke, the main thing that the social media team has done is put themselves at risk of fragmenting their audience. Instead of all viewers meeting in cyberspace over a unified hashtag, many viewers will make the mistake of tweeting about individual jokes without the show’s general hashtag and never cross paths with people who also enjoyed the same comedian that they did. For example, the people who liked a joke about #raisingkids will never read tweets anyone who liked the #ketchupchips joke, even if both jokes were from the same comedian. That’s far too much division. Now imagine you have an entire TV series of dozens of comedians and dozens of episodes. The potential fragmentation gets even worse. How on earth will everyone know that they’re talking about the same show if so many people are separated into such small subcategories?
Worse yet, these joke-specific hashtags do nothing for publicity. Comedy is subjective, so there will almost never be one joke that everyone will adore and tweet up a storm about. Moreover, the potential misleading of viewers/fragmentation not only affects the ability of fans to connect, but it decreases the already low likelihood of your show’s general hashtag going viral, which is always the ideal goal.
Basically, I’m weirdly passionate about the belief that stand up shows should not do hashtags related to jokes. Using only general hashtags of show names allow viewers to not have their entertainment ruined by unnecessary obtrusions, plus it prevents viewers from getting lost in smaller sections and increases the likelihood of your show’s general hashtag being popular on social media. Dozens of smaller hashtags do the exact opposite.
I care about this issue so much I would literally do a research paper on it if I was in social marketing. Thank you for reading all that.